Creating, Publishing, and Selling Your Own eBook
As a writer, I can tell you there’s no better feeling than having someone read and enjoy your work. Well, maybe one thing better: making money at the same time. Of course there are many obstacles that stand in between authors and profit, including the costs of publishing and the time it takes to complete a project. However, e-publishing changes all of that.
Although there will always be a few readers who insist on feeling the physical pages under their fingers, many have embraced eBooks both for their convenience and low cost. As a result, e-publishing has boomed and given independent authors an outstanding outlet for selling their books.
If you’ve considered writing and selling your own eBook, this guide will cover what’s great about e-publishing, what platforms exist for self-publishing authors, and the technical how-to’s of turning your manuscript into a reader-ready file and uploading it to be sold.
The Benefits of E-Publishing
While e-publishing might not have the same prestige or sense of nostalgia that physical, printed books do, eBooks can actually be far more lucrative than their analog counterparts. In fact, e-publishing has really helped usher in an age of author-entrepreneurs (or “authorpreneurs,” if you will) who earn a living through their prolific writings. Better yet, thanks in part to the low costs of launching an eBook coupled with the ease of publishing, the level of independence and creative freedom that eBooks offer is truly unmatched.
Here are a few other major benefits inherent to e-publishing:
Sell for any price
A recurring theme you’ll notice in this section is flexibility. That motif begins with how eBooks are priced. If you look on Amazon right now, you’re likely to see titles priced from as low as $.99 all the up to around $20 or more. As a result, you can price your eBook to meet your goals. For example, those more concerned with readership than money might choose a lower list price while those who want to earn a return for their hard work might put a premium on that. Additionally, you can test demand at various price points to ultimately land on the one that works for you and your title.
Easy to update
Not only can you change your eBook pricing on the fly but can also update the book itself as necessary. Find a typo in your book after it’s already hit the market? This would be a major cause of frustration for those with printed titles but with eBooks you can simply make the correction and re-upload the file — phew!
Offer enhanced content
Since eBooks are, by their nature, digital, there’s plenty of chances to add multimedia elements to them to give readers an enhanced experience. This could include color photos, web links, or simply easy-to-access footnotes they can “flip” to while reading. Keep in mind that not all of these elements will work on every device, but with many people upgrading their e-readers and/or tablets, these types of enhancement are growing in popularity.
Any length is fine
If the prospect of penning a full-length book intimidates you, take heart in knowing that eBooks don’t necessarily have the same length requirement that printed titles do. As mentioned, since eBooks can be priced a number of different ways, there’s no need to write 200 pages of material just because you feel like you should give readers their money’s worth. Instead you can write what makes sense for your title — as long or as short — and then price accordingly.
Limited capital investment required
Another major perk of e-publishing is how little it takes to get started. In fact, in many cases, the only expenditure is your time. While you may want to put a little money into your title for things like editing and layout, it is technically possible to put out an eBook for $0 upfront since Amazon, iBooks, and other outlets simply take a cut of actual sales.
Reach a wide audience
Let’s face it: people are impulsive. Similarly, many among us want instant gratification whenever possible. Luckily, e-publishing buys into this mentality and makes it easy for readers to buy new books with the click of a button and have them download instantly. Furthermore, as we’ll discuss in the next section, you may even be able to entice readers by letting them consume your work for free, which, in turn, hopefully means they’ll spread the word to friends.
Choosing an E-Publishing Platform
The term “eBook” is so generic that many likely assume they’re all the same thing. While that may be true to a certain extent, there are now many different outlets for selling eBook titles that authors should be aware of. In many cases there are few negatives to listing your book on one or all of these platforms, because each offers a chance to reach an audience that may not have encountered your book otherwise.
Below is a look at a few of the top eBook markets and platforms you should consider listing your title on:
Kindle and KDP Select
When it comes to eBook sales, Amazon is far and away the biggest player in the game. In fact, their Kindle e-reader device has nearly become synonymous with the medium despite imitators and other outlets joining the market. Additionally, Kindle devices have evolved greatly in recent years, essentially turning into tablets. The Kindle format still leads the way in terms of eBook downloads and is an absolute must for all authors. It’s also worth noting that Kindle’s app means that their titles can be read on a large number of devices including smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers.
Beyond the regular Kindle program (often abbreviated as KDP for Kindle Direct Publishing) that allows authors to set their price and earn a royalty on each download, Amazon also offers their KDP Select program. By signing up for Select, authors will allow Amazon Prime users to get their titles for free and get paid for the number of pages read. The catch is that Kindle Select demands eBook exclusivity, meaning you cannot list your title on iBooks, Nook, or Kobo (although printed books are still okay). That said, you can still opt in or out of Select at anytime, so it may be worth trying out — just keep in mind that results may vary from author to author and title to title.
As you can probably guess by the lowercase “i” that precedes the phrase, iBooks is Apple’s eBook platform. Similar to iTunes, titles can be downloaded via iBooks app on iOS devices or Mac computers. Obviously this may limit your reading audience, although there are a great number of devoted Apple users around the world.
One truly remarkable aspect of publishing on iBooks is the ability to generate codes for free downloads. This is something that’s not offered by Amazon and can really come in handy for giving away promotional or review copies of your book without having to spend any money. Personally, I originally listed my book on iBooks at launch simply to take advantage of the codes for promotion before eventually delisting and trying Amazon Select.
You may recall that Nook was book retailer Barnes & Noble’s answer to Amazon’s Kindle device. While it didn’t quite catch on as they had hoped, there is still a dedicated Nook fanbase. Additionally B&N also offers a Nook app, opening the format up to a much wider audience.
Kobo is another universal eBook platform that offers apps for iOS, Android, desktop, and even Blackberry and Windows phones. Like the others on the list, Kobo has also earned some loyalists even in the face of stiff competition from Amazon and maintains an international presence. Because of this, if you’re not joining the Kindle Select program, it may be worth adding this outlet to your list as well.
How to Create Your eBook
Preparing your manuscript
Like with any book, it all starts with writing your manuscript. This can be done in any manner or format you choose, although keep in mind that you will eventually need to convert it to a digital format. For that reason most authors prefer to write using a word processor like Microsoft Word (I sure do). But, up until it’s time to actually export the eBook, do whatever you like to compile your thoughts and build your project.
After you’re happy with the content of your book, it’s always a good idea to get some extra eyes on it. Whether that means hiring an editor, copyeditor, or just having a few eagle-eyed friends take a pass at is entirely up to you. Again, one benefit of e-publishing is that you will have a chance to correct errors even after you publish. That said you still want to make the best first impression possible with readers so don’t skip proofreading.
Laying out your book
With the text locked down, it’s time to start thinking about design. Admittedly, this step might seem more important to printed books than digital ones, but investing in a good design is something to be considered. In fact, you may want to take advantage of the medium and include images and other visual elements that might be pricey if they were to be printed.
If you want to get fancy, you can always hire a designer to help you layout your book and make it look great. Alternatively, I recommend trying your hand at Adobe InDesign and see what you can accomplish (for more on laying out your own title, see my full guide to self-publishing). InDesign will also make it a little easier to convert your title as well, but we’ll get there in a minute.
Even if you forgo the use of images, drop caps, or other design elements, be sure to pay attention to other details such as the font you choose, how your paragraphs are indented, and how your chapter titles look. I also recommend looking at other professional eBooks, which might inspire some ideas or at least show you how things are done. Still, at the end of the day, readability is the most important factor.
Reflowable versus fixed design
There are two main types of eBooks: one’s that are reflowable and ones with fixed designs. These terms refer to how your book will adapt to and display on various devices. Reflowable means that the text, images, and other elements will resize themselves depending on the device being used and the settings the user has chosen. On the other hand, fixed designs will stay as-is, similar to a .PDF file.
In most cases, reflowable files are preferred by e-publishing authors. However, if you have a design-heavy book — a common example being a children’s book where the images and text need to stay in a specific place — having a fixed layout may be your only choice. Unfortunately, using a fixed layout may limit you in terms of the devices your book will be compatible with or display well on.
Converting your book for e-publication
Depending on what operating system you have, what outlet you plan to upload your book to, and what program you’re using to export your book, there are several different methods you can use to turn your manuscript into an actual eBook. For the purposes of this article, I will discuss first how to export your book from Microsoft Word and from InDesign for the best results.
First, I highly recommend a free program called Calibre, which is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. This powerful tool will allow you turn Word documents, text files, .pdfs, and other file types into the .epub or .mobi files you’ll need for uploading your book. Additionally, it will let you customize the settings on your book and even auto-generate the table of contents data.
Once you have Calibre downloaded, you’ll see an option to add books. For a barebones eBook, you can select your Word or other text document file and add it to your Calibre library. From there, you’ll be able to edit the metadata, upload your cover image, and change other settings to prepare your book for conversion. After that, select the “Convert books” option to load even more options.
If this is your first time e-publishing, the number of options offered may be a bit overwhelming at first. However, keep in mind that you’ll have more than one shot to play around with different settings before actually uploading your book to sell. Additionally, if nothing else, at least take the time to fill out all of the metadata, as this will prove important later.
On the left side of the screen you’ll see the type of file you’ve uploaded. Then, on the right, you’ll see a pull down menu for the output format. You’ll most likely want to export your book to .epub format as this is the most common file eBook file type. Incidentally, Kindle used to not allow .epub uploads but has since joined the party.
Speaking of Kindle, another helpful tool is the Kindle Previewer. As its name implies, this desktop application allows you to view your file as it will display on a number of Kindle devices. A word of warning: the app’s interface is less than glamorous and not entirely intuitive either. Because of this, it may take a few minutes to find everything you’ll need. However, I recommend changing the settings and viewing your file on as many different devices as possible — yes, some people do still have those old devices. One other note: you can upload an .epub to Previewer but it will still convert it to .mobi. This shouldn’t affect your viewing experience, but it will result in an extra file being dropped in your folder or on your desktop.
Meanwhile, if you’ve taken my advice and chosen to layout your book with InDesign, you can actually skip the Calibre step as the program allows you to export directly to .epub. To do so, go to File > Export and select EPUB (either reflowable or fixed layout). After clicking “save,” you’ll be able to adjust your setting, enter your metadata, and finally save .epub.
Uploading Your eBook
Once you’ve converted and tested your eBook file, it’s time to submit and get your book listed. Depending on how many outlets you choose to sell on, this could take you a fair a bit of time. That’s because you’ll need to create an account and, in some cases, download an application in order to list your work.
Before we get too detailed, here’s how to list your work on each of the four platforms we discussed earlier.
Kindle Direct Publishing
In all likelihood, your first stop on your uploading tour will be Amazon’s KDP. As mentioned, the first step to publishing with KDP is creating an account, but there’s a good chance you already have one. That’s because your regular Amazon account can double as a KDP one, allowing you to easily log in and get started.
Once you’ve cleared that low hurdle, you’ll be taken to a dashboard where you can start creating your Kindle eBook. On the first page you’ll find spots for all the basic info — title, author name, language — as well as options to write a description, enter keywords, and select categories so readers can find your book. Also on this page you can select whether you’d like to make your book available immediately or accept preorders for it.
The next step is to upload the actual content of your book. Once you select your file, the site will launch a slicker version of Previewer that you can use to give your book one last look. Keep in mind that this mini-tool has far fewer options that the full Previewer app and doesn’t have any older Kindle models, so I still recommend using the real thing before submitting. Also this step is where you can upload your cover or even create one using Amazon’s Cover Creator. Lastly, you can enter your ISBN and publisher if applicable, although this is not required.
Pricing Your Kindle Book
Now it’s time to talk pricing. One of the stranger questions presented to you at this time is whether you’d like a 70% royalty of a 35% royalty. Obviously choosing the greater number would make the most sense, but there are a few hitches. For one, only books priced between $2.99 and $9.99 are eligible for the 70% royalty structure. Additionally, this plan is subject to “delivery fees” that go up depending on the size of your book and cut into your share of the profits. However, the 35% plan allows you to set any price you want from $.99 to $200 and doesn’t deduct delivery fees. Another important note is that titles that choose the 70% structure are required to join the Kindle Book Lending program, which allows users to lend titles to their friends and family. If this sounds confusing, there’s good news: you can simply enter the price you want to list at and Amazon will show you a full chart comparing your options. You’ll also notice that your book will be listed in a vast number of international marketplaces — some earning you a 70% royalty and others 35%.
Finally, before submitting for good, there are two more matters to consider: Kindle Select and Matchbook. We’ll start with the latter because it’s less likely to apply; basically, if you plan on selling a printed version of your book, you can offer the Kindle version to readers at a discounted price (or even free). Selecting this option will let you select the price and view the royalty you’d receive.
As for KDP Select, the amount you could receive is not nearly as straightforward. Simply put, the program allows Prime users to download your title for free, although Amazon will pay you based on how many pages of your book are read by users overall. However, the price per page is not set in advance. Instead, you’ll get a share of the KDP Select Global Fund. Also recall that KDP Select requires eBook exclusivity, meaning you cannot upload your title to iBooks, Nook, or Kobo. For all these reasons, you should take a hard look at the KDP Select help page before making your decision.
iBooks via iTunes Producer
When it comes to uploading to iBooks, there’s good and bad news. On the bright side, there are far fewer options and things to think about than with KDP. However, getting to the point where you can upload your book is oddly difficult and requires jumping through several hoops. This is especially true if you don’t own a Mac, in which case it’s probably not even worth trying, seeing as the required software isn’t available for Windows.
So Mac users, if you don’t already have one, you’ll need to obtain an Apple ID. From there, you’ll need to head over to iTunes Connect and sign up to be eligible to sell iBooks. Side note: iTunes Connect is where you’ll be able to view sales and generate promo codes once your book is published.
The next step is to download iTunes Producer. Oddly, the link to download this app is kind of hidden. You can get to it by clicking the Resources and Help icon when logged into iTunes Connect or just go straight here. As a reminder, this program is only available on Mac and, more specifically, only those running OS 10.10 or higher.
But that’s not all — as I was refreshing my knowledge on the process in order to write this, I ran into yet another problem when trying to log into Producer. I was informed that I needed an “app-specific password.” To get this, I had visit the Apple ID site, go to my account, and click the app-specific password link to have one generated for me. Look, I know Apple’s been on a big security kick ever since the government tried to get them to hack the iPhone, but this is getting a little crazy.
Luckily, once you make into the Fort Knox of eBook platforms, the Apple simplicity you know and love kicks in. You can drag and drop your cover art, add up to five screenshots of your book, and edit all of your title details. Then, by clicking the “Files” tab next to “Details,” you can also drag and drop your .epub file. Next to where you drop your full-book file, you’ll see a separate section for a sample. One cool feature is that you can actually create a custom sample that users can download, although one will also be auto-generated from your main file if you choose to skip this step.
After filling everything out and uploading your files, just hit “Submit” in the upper right corner and you’re done. Well, actually there’s another important step: you still need to price your book. To do this, head back to iTunes Connect. In terms of royalty, Apple pays out 70% on your sales.
Next up is Nook Press, which may just be the easiest of the four platforms to sign up for and get your eBook published. For one, the sign-up process is all on the same page, so no need to visit several sites and download a program like with iBooks. But the simplicity doesn’t stop there.
For Nook Press, you’ll be taken to a portal where you can upload your file (even in .doc format if you want) right off the bat. One thing that’s kind of nice about Nook is that you can actually continue to edit your manuscript even after it’s uploaded, making it even easier to correct typos. Beyond that, there’s a section to upload your cover, followed by the description and category sections. Lastly, like with Amazon, Nook prefers pricing between $2.99 and $9.99. Setting your list price between those two will earn you a 65% royalty while pricing outside of that will get you 40% (and the site will calculate your royalty on the page so you know what you’ll be getting).
Kobo Writing Life
Creating a Kobo Writing Life account is also fairly simple, although it will take a little bit more than with Nook. After entering your typical info, you’ll get an e-mail confirming your account. Once confirmed, it will also want you to set up your payment info, which you can close and ignore, but it will come up again during the process.
Back on the site, your dashboard will give you the option to start a new title. Clicking that button will lead you through a series of steps, beginning with your book info and inserting your cover. Next up is loading your book file.
Following the file upload, it’s time to select your rights and distribution. This includes the option to join Kobo Plus. While this program that gives readers unlimited access to books may sound like KDP Select, it does not require exclusivity. Oh yeah, one other thing: it’s also only currently offered to readers in the Netherland and Belgium, but any author can still opt-in.
Before you can get to the pricing section, if you didn’t already set up your payment info, you will have to now. With that done, you can set up your price. Kobo also offers different royalties based on price, but theirs are quite simple: 45% royalty for books under $2.99 and 70% for anything $2.99 or more. Once you’ve settled on a price, you can set a release date and hit “Publish eBook.”
Signing Up with eBook Distributors
There is one other option to consider when looking at self-publishing your eBook and that’s using a distributor. Today there are several companies that will do some of the leg work for you and help you get your book out to the world… for a price. Here’s what you should know about eBook distributors.
What are eBook distributors?
First off, eBook distributors are different that eBook publishers. The latter selects authors to work with, collaborates with them on editing their manuscript, designs a cover, and helps them market their title. Meanwhile, a distributor simply helps get your book into the various digital marketplaces. As a result, publishers will typically take a much larger percentage of your sales than distributors will, although eBook distributors will still charge a fee upfront or take a cut over time.
Some of the biggest eBook distributors include Smashwords, BookBaby, Draft2Digital, and Inscribe Digital. While they all fall under the same basic category, each of these companies offers different services and pricing. Because of this, you’ll want to be sure to pick a distributor that meets your needs and avoid paying for things you don’t really need.
Why you’d want a distributor
The biggest reason you’d want an eBook distributor is to save time and get help with some of the technicals of publishing an eBook. For example, many distributors will actually convert your eBook from a Word document for you (making the majority of this guide for naught) and might offer editing services for a fee. Furthermore, you won’t have to worry about submitting to each of platform individually, as they’ll take care of that process for you.
Speaking of platforms, there are some outlets your book can only be listed on if you have a distributor. The largest site in this category is Scribd, which offers users access to unlimited eBooks and audiobooks for a monthly fee. This could potentially be a great opportunity for authors to attract readers but, at this time, Scribd doesn’t allow for direct uploads from authors. Instead you’ll have to use one of distributors mentioned in the “what are eBook distributors?” section in order to get your title listed on the service.
Why you wouldn’t want a distributor
One word: money. As mentioned, some distributors will charge you an upfront fee for things like converting your book while others will take a portion (usually around 10%) of your royalties along the way in exchange for their services. Therefore you really need to consider whether using an eBook distributor is a good investment or a waste of cash. Ultimately the answer will depend on your needs and your technical know how.
Hopefully this level of information doesn’t overwhelm you. Keep in mind that a lot of this will also make a lot more sense once you try these platforms for yourself and have a point of reference. That said, I did want to mention a couple more things before sending you on your way:
Mentioned earlier but not nearly to the extent it deserves, metadata is a must when publishing your eBook. This information along with the keywords, categories, and descriptions you include on each site will inform how readers find your book. Additionally, this information may be viewable by users on their devices so ensure that it’s complete, correct, and well crafted.
I also briefly mentioned the ability to add more multimedia elements to your eBooks. Unfortunately, this is not an area I have much experience in. That said, I do know Apple offers a free Mac OS app called iBooks Author with lots of options for creating interactive books to be sold on iTunes. Other than that, I’d recommend looking for resources specifically geared toward that genre of eBook.
Table of contents
If you were to just upload your word file without converting to .epub, one element you might miss is the ability to mark your chapters and allow readers to easily navigate between them. One really great and simple way to fix this is to set up Calibre to recognize chapter headings and mark them accordingly. For example, you could use Heading 2s (H2s) to mark your chapters and then have the app mark a chapter every time it sees an H2. This might sound complicated, but all you really have to do is go to Table of Contents when converting your book, click the magic wand on the right, select H2 from the pull down menu, and follow the instructions for the rest.
If you have an ISBN for a print edition of your book, do not enter that number for any of the eBooks you upload to the various platforms. EBooks and other editions of titles need their own ISBNs and so duplicating them could cause issues. Luckily, none of the outlets discussed require you to have an ISBN, so feel free to always leave that blank.
For authors, e-publishing has been a revelation. While some may bemoan the medium’s effect on traditional bookstores, there’s no denying the outstanding platform that it has given writers to reach their audience. Additionally, with a low cost of entry, many authors can afford to live off of their eBook sales and bring their readers even more to enjoy.
If you’ve been considering getting started in e-publishing and creating your own eBook, what’s stopping you? Honestly, the hardest part is finishing your manuscript. With this guide and some trial and error, you’ll be well on your way to publishing your eBook and (hopefully) bringing in some cash.